EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State looks to snap a three-game losing streak when it hosts Big Ten rival Illinois on Saturday. The Spartans have played three straight teams that were ranked in the Top 10 at the time, losing by a combined 100-17, while the Illini come into the contest on a three-game winning streak.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Michigan State -14.5
Illinois' run began with an upset over previously undefeated Wisconsin three weeks ago, and Lovie Smith's team has been cruising since. The Illini's defense has been outstanding of late and leads the nation in defensive touchdowns (five), forced fumbles (17) and turnovers gained (22). Michigan State has been just the opposite over its last four games, allowing each of its last four opponents to score 28 points or more, and is now without leading tackler Joe Bachie, who has been declared ineligible for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Quarterback Brian Lewerke (1,761 yards, 11 touchdowns) has been inconsistent, but when he gets rolling, he can be as good as any passer in the Big Ten.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten)
Illinois senior linebacker Dele Harding seems to be flying under the radar this season, despite being one of the top tacklers in the country. Coach Lovie Smith was noticeably upset when it was announced that Harding, who is fourth in the country with 106 tackles, didn’t make the Butkus Award semifinalist list, yet teammate Jake Hansen did. Hansen, a junior, has 72 tackles and a national-best seven forced fumbles and was part of a contingent of five Big Ten linebackers who were semifinalists for the award.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (4-4, 2-3)
The Spartans have been known for their running game for a number of years, but Michigan State is 13th in the Big Ten, averaging 112.9 yards per game on the ground. Redshirt freshman Elijah Collins leads the way with 545 yards but he’s dealt with a couple of nagging injuries, and the Spartans’ backfield depth took a major hit with Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson entering the transfer portal last month. Against Penn State two weeks ago, Collins was sidelined for a couple series, and Michigan State was forced to go with freshmen Brandon Wright and Anthony Williams to replace him.
1. Illinois WR Josh Imatorbhebhe has seven touchdown receptions this season, ranking him tied for third in the Big Ten and tied for 24th nationally.
2. Michigan State WR Darrell Stewart is second in the Big Ten in receiving yards (694) and third in receptions (47).
3. Illini DE Oluwole Betiku Jr. ranks fifth in the nation in sacks per game with 1.14 and ninth in tackles for loss at 1.6.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 24, Illinois 20